Italy Relays Israeli Demands for Soldiers' Release, Lebanon Says

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Lebanon's government said Sunday that Italy has relayed Israeli conditions to stop its assault on Lebanon: Release the two captured Israeli soldiers and pull Hezbollah back from the Israeli border.

Information Minister Ghazi Aridi briefed reporters on the conditions after an emergency Cabinet meeting. He said Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi spoke to Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, and relayed the conditions made by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

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Aridi said Prodi told Saniora that "Premier Olmert has two conditions for a cease-fire: handover of the captured soldiers and Hezbollah's withdrawal beyond the Litani [River]."

He said Prodi relayed Olmert's conditions to Saniora as part of a "personal initiative."

"Nothing is official because the real negotiations have not started yet," Aridi said.

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The Litani River is about 18 miles north of Israel's coastal border with Lebanon. Israel invaded Lebanon in 1978 to push back Palestinian guerrillas beyond the Litani, to prevent rocket attacks on Israel's northern communities. Israel again invaded in 1982 and occupied Beirut, but withdrew gradually under guerrilla fire to a border buffer zone in 1985. That security zone was abandoned altogether in 2000.